Friday, November 19, 2004

Kashmir

Not an inch, Mr. Prime Minister

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? W.B. Yeats

Time magazine recently reported a leaked proposal for a territory-for-peace swap with Pakistan. India might consider “adjusting” the line of control (LOC) by “a matter of miles eastward” in return for a cessation of Pakistani terrorism.

How did our idealistic fight for secular identity become a real estate transaction? Doesn’t this imply India blinking again versus jihadi terrorism? Our last blinking – in 1999, in Kandahar – presaged 9/11. This time, do we even dare imagine what rough beast would have slouched towards Srinagar to be born?

Even if Pakistan has somehow lost its will to fight – how can India ever be sure of this – and the proposed LOC adjustment is political cover for Islamabad, this idea makes little sense.

It is critical that Indians appreciate the underlying fundament driving this idea. India is increasingly integrating in the global economy. India’s elite envy China’s explosive prosperity and wish the same for themselves. They also seek the trappings of being a great power.

To them, India is far too “obsessed” with its neighbors – it must now unshackle itself from stagnant “South Asia” and play on the world stage instead. A territory-for-peace swap with Pakistan would be a good first step in this direction. They also believe that the ensuing peace dividend would easily buy-off all domestic opposition.

They will thus happily swap a few Himalayan miles for economic and geo-political prosperity. It is therefore necessary to confront their dogma that a “settlement” with Pakistan will yield prosperity and power.

India’s people are understandably tired of war in Kashmir. They yearn for peace and the consequent prosperity. But peace and prosperity through terrorist appeasement are surely illusions. How soon before the Pakistan comes back for a mile, having taken an inch? What if terrorism is resumed? What will India do then? Cry foul and wave around the settlement signed by the untrustworthy General Musharraf?

India’s elite hopes its statesmanship on Kashmir will lead it into bodies like the Security Council and G8, therefore to power and riches. But since when are seats at high tables available for purchase in the currency of weakness? Besides, power and riches are prerequisites to joining these clubs – these clubs are not avenues to power and riches.

Security Council and G8 members matter not because of their membership in these bodies. In fact, it is the Council that derives influence from its permanent members whose own power comes from having humbled their adversaries. Likewise, the G8 derives influence from its members who are prosperous in their own right.

Where does this leave India? With an appeased terror state as peace partner who, past experience suggests, is hardly trustworthy and, if a miracle happens, ersatz membership in global bodies that neither provides power nor riches. Some prize this is.

Domestically, this idea is a sharp stick in the eye of secular Indians – whose identity stands and falls on Kashmir. For what have we fought communal pogroms in India if we are now to accept victory for jihadi terror in Kashmir? That our secular polity would float this blasphemous trial balloon is bitterly ironic, and unacceptable.

This idea will also revitalize our dispirited communalists – whose identity feeds off the perceived weak timber of secular India. They will contrast their “strength” in Ayodhya to secularist “weakness” in Kashmir. While highly cynical, this contrast will alas resonate with many – political dynamite like this can then hardly be put back in a bottle.

Swapping territory for “peace” will satisfy neither India’s restive people nor its myopic elite. It will, instead, catalyze new fissures in our socio-political order. In the worst case, we would have swapped an uncivil war in Kashmir for a civil war in the rest of India. On the world stage, we would have reinforced thankfully fading notions of India being a “soft state” and opened ourselves for future blackmail.

Our erudite Prime Minister frequently quotes Victor Hugo on the power of an idea whose time has come. Given the damaging consequences outlined above, surely the time for this idea has not yet come. Why is it then being whispered in Time magazine’s ears?

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